Friday, April 9, 2010

Taylor Swift as feminist success

It seems various assorted feminists don't like Taylor Swift. At all.

I've been wondering about this ever since I read this article (which is entertaining and enlightening, the Riese's Lady Gaga obsession aside).

But I'm not so sure Swift is as anti-feminist as she seems. In fact, I think she can almost be seen as a sort of subtle triumph for feminism.

To begin with, I don't think it's fair to compare Swift to Lady Gaga et al. Swift's target audience seems to be younger teenage and preteen girls. Lady Gaga is not at all suitable for young teenagers. She thrives on being outrageous; Swift on being innocent. There's simply no comparison to be made.

I'm don't think we can compare her with more truly feminist artists either. Take someone like Ani Difranco - her music is has at least an order of magnitude more depth and complexity than Taylor Swift's. The target audience is just not the same. Swift's music is meant for easy listening on the radio, not for inspiring contemplation on the nature of women in society.

So I'd like to compare Swift to another artist who has that 'innocent' vibe: 78violet, better known as Aly and Aj. Aly and Aj started out as a relatively Disneyfied pop act, minus most of the songwriting stereotypes that plague the likes of Swift. They matured with their second album, which which certainly not overtly feminist does have a few gems:
Were you right? Was I wrong?
Were you weak? Was I strong?
--Chemicals React, Aly & Aj (Insomniatic)

Which (unintentionally, perhaps) turns an old stereotype of stupid men and weak women nicely on its head. This is 'post-feminist' music, if you will - Aly and Aj feel free to say whatever they feel, without worrying about stereotypes, or trying to break them. This is not to say we're in a post-feminist world - far from it. But the casual presence of such ideas proves that feminism has truly accomplished something.

And that's what Swift could be like. She could be innocent, non-subversive, and simplistic, while assuming the existence of an egalitarian world. She doesn't. Her music still relies on princes on white horses sweeping princesses away.

But even in her stereotypical world there are flashes of something else. Take 'Love Story', the huge hit. The motif throughout is, "baby just say, 'yes'" - the standard pre-engagement plea. If you listen carefully, though, the line is actually sung by the girl in every case but the very last time it occurs! And I, at least, didn't even notice the point-of-view swap until I read the lyrics online. The song is still cheesy and stereotypical, but the girl is essentially proposing to the guy - hardly the standard Western tradition.

So Taylor Swift really does owe a great deal to feminism in her music; even more so in her real-life career. And that's probably more important than anything else: the young girls who listen are more likely to want to be like Taylor Swift herself than like the characters in her songs.

The point to all this is simple: An important aspect of feminism is defending the right of women to be non-feminist (not anti-feminist perhaps, but certainly non-feminist). If Taylor Swift isn't a paragon of feminist thought, she does unintentionally embody certain aspects of it; we could do much, much worse in choice of entertainment (the Pussycat Dolls, anybody?).

So what do you think - is unintentional feminism a sign of success?

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Thursday, April 8, 2010

It may be impossible not to love Ellen Page

I've loved Ellen Page since Juno (and, then, even more after Whip It), and she just keeps getting awesomer and awesomer. An excerpt from her recent interview in The Guardian:
How did you feel about the controversy aroused by your role in Juno?

I was like, you know what? You all need to calm down. People are so black and white about this. Because she kept the baby everybody said the film was against abortion. But if she'd had an abortion everybody would have been like, "Oh my God". I am a feminist and I am totally pro-choice, but what's funny is when you say that people assume that you are pro-abortion. I don't love abortion but I want women to be able to choose and I don't want white dudes in an office being able to make laws on things like this. I mean what are we going to do – go back to clothes hangers?

What do you think of the way women are treated in the movie business?

I think it's a total drag. I've been lucky to get interesting parts but there are still not that many out there for women. And everybody is so critical of women. If there's a movie starring a man that tanks, then I don't see an article about the fact that the movie starred a man and that must be why it bombed. Then a film comes out where a woman is in the lead, or a movie comes out where a bunch of girls are roller derbying, and it doesn't make much money and you see articles about how women can't carry a film.

Love. Her.

H/T AfterEllen and Feministing

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Monday, April 5, 2010

Sarah Palin Redux

Check out a great post over at the Ms. blog that's related to my response to Sarah Palin and her recent return(s) to the media spotlight (had she really ever left?).

Ms. blogger Audrey's analysis is spot-on:
At the Arizona rally, Palin trotted out the maverick label and praised McCain for his anti-Obama outsiderness. But her speech had a subversive undercurrent, working the seam of age and gender at McCain’s expense. For example, to illustrate how McCain’s “man of the people” stance hasn’t won him friends in Washington, she drew on her own expertise in beauty pageants, chuckling that “He could win the talent and debate portion of any pageant, but no one’s going to dub him Miss Congeniality.” Picturing McCain in a beauty contest is inherently incongruous (would he tap dance for talent?), and then to invoke him as Miss Congeniality? Such a title feminizes him and gives Palin a home-field advantage: She was, after all, Miss Wasilla–and Miss Congeniality.

(I meant to post this last week, but it completely slipped my mind!)

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